I came across this post in a blog by James Fallows, a writer for the Atlantic, and learned something I didn't know, but probably should have. There is some dispute over whether the country now facing the death of thousands of its citizens as the result of a recent cyclone and the humanitarian catastrophe which has followed is actually called Myanmar or Burma.
More specifically, among the democratic opposition party in the country, the United States of America and Great Britain, it's Burma. If you ask the dictatorial military regime that is keeping needed medical supplies and food from its dying citizenry, it's Myanmar. Oh, and National Public Radio, the New York Times and CNN call it Myanmar too.
Here's some key history from the U.S. State Department's profile on Burma:
In March 1988, student-led disturbances broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening economic situation and evolved into a call for regime change. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size as many in the general public joined the students. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. At a rally following this massacre Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of opposition leader.
In September 1988, the military deposed Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), suspended the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to "restore order," the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas.
The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held in May 1990. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest. However, the SLORC refused to honor the results and call the Parliament into session, and instead imprisoned many political activists.Although the State Peace and Development Council changed the name of the country to "Myanmar," the democratically elected but never convened Parliament of 1990 does not recognize the name change, and the democratic opposition continues to use the name "Burma." Due to consistent support for the democratically elected leaders, the U.S. Government likewise uses "Burma."
Maybe it's trite to be thinking about what to call a country when tens of thousands of its citizens are dead or dying. Although something makes me think that's exactly what the junta was thinking about when they killed their first thousand in taking power and changed the name of the country in the first place.
The national media relishes its role as self-appointed keeper of our national ethic. Of course, that role is a joke, and their coverage of this tragedy is just one more example of why.
Reading a teleprompter in their bright studios and writing at their desks, they can do little to to help the dying people of Burma except help educate their viewers and readers about the country's plight. Instead, they educate using the junta's textbook.
Is it simply too much to ask of NPR, the NY Times and CNN to follow their colleagues at the Washington Post and the BBC, all three presidential candidates and the United States government in calling the country by its rightful name?
NPR, the NY Times and CNN should honor those suffering and ignore the dictatorial wishes of an oppressive regime and call the country Burma, the name the people who have died would call their country... if they still could.